Aesthetic beautification is a familiar artistic phenomenon: Even as they face death, heroes and heroines in operas still sing glorious music. Characters in Shakespearean tragedies still deliver beautifully eloquent speeches in the throes of despair. Even depicting suffering and horror, paintings can still remain a transfixing delight for the eyes. In such cases, the work of art represents or expresses something we would, in ordinary life, attribute a negative valence (suffering, horror, death, and the like), but it does so beautifully. Doubtless there is not a single explanation for what transpires in art of this sort or in our experience of it. With some aesthetically beautified art, its foremost goal might be giving aesthetic pleasure, and the beauty of the aesthetic form, even when depicting horrors, is in the service of this primary aim. In other art, the beautification might seek to be jarring and thought-provoking, highlighting a disconnect between the aesthetic frame and what is portrayed. These routes explain much of aesthetic beautification. But I am particularly interested in considering another more specific response still: finding ourselves somehow consoled by the beautification. I begin with some reflections on aesthetic beautification in general, and then turn to consider how beautification and consolation might be connected, and what to make of this.
Andrew Huddleston is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick, where he is co-Director of the Centre for Research in Post-Kantian European Philosophy. He studied as an undergraduate at Brown and at Pembroke College, Cambridge, and did his PhD at Princeton under the supervision of Alexander Nehamas. Huddleston previously taught at Exeter College, Oxford and at Birkbeck College, University of London. He specializes in 19th and 20th Century European Philosophy, Aesthetics, and Ethics. His book Nietzsche on the Decadence and Flourishing of Culture (2019) was published by Oxford University Press, and he is presently at work on a book tentatively titled Art’s Highest Calling: The Religion of Art in a Secular Age.
This podcast is an audio recording of Dr Huddleston's talk - "Aesthetic Beautification" - at the Aristotelian Society on 21 February 2022. This recording was produced by the Backdoor Broadcasting Company.